It got Oscar nominations and a lot of good press. But take away the works and August: Osage County -- about a dysfunctional family to end all dysfunctional families - is all about acting. It has a star-studded cast too --
, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Cooper and Ewan McGregor.
What it lacks in terms of storyline and treatment is a heart and that's where director John Wells fails.
of Time Out writes, "This star-studded loopy melodrama is brash, foul-mouthed, self-consciously offensive, intermittently insightful and has a gaping hole where its heart should be. That said, if you enjoy improbable plot twists, overcooked dialogue and Hollywood legends champing on scenery, this adaptation is a highly entertaining slice of American Gothic."
The stage is set for a nerve-wracking family reunion when alcoholic Beverly Watson commits suicide. "His widow, Violet Weston (Meryl Streep), a malevolent and witty pill-head, zonked half the time but devastating when she's in focus, remains in the house, triumphant that she has survived her husband. Violet is joined by her three daughters-an unhappy cynic (Julia Roberts), a bland saint (Julianne Nicholson), and a ditz with dreadful taste in men (Juliette Lewis)-and a variety of husbands and children," writes David Denby of New Yorker.
If you YouTubed the promos of the film and are going by the mood they set, a word of caution - the film is dark, dark, and not always in a good way.
As Connie Ogle of Miami Herald says in her review, "(Tracy) Letts has adapted his play into a film, cutting it down to a manageable 130 minutes and maintaining most of its dark comedy. But the transformation is not without a few bumps. The misleading feel-good trailers would have you believe Letts' story is an upbeat reminder of the unbreakable bonds of family. The play is something else altogether, so why Letts tacked on a semi-hopeful ending is a mystery (and an ill-conceived mystery at that). You're not supposed to feel good about life's possibilities after seeing August: Osage County. You're supposed to be devastated."
Moira McDonalds of Seattle Times is also unhappy with the stage-to-film transition of August: Osage County. "On stage, I imagine August: Osage County crackles; it follows a long tradition of dysfunctional family dramas, and its long dramatic scenes should play well when pitched toward the balconies. Film, though, doesn't hold this kind of material as well (staginess only works on stage); and this August, adapted by Tracy Letts from his own play, feels overstuffed and overplayed - you get tired watching it, rather than caught up in the drama, and you wonder if the actors are tired, too," she says in the review.
What works are the performances. Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts are in a fine fettle here - both got Oscar nominations for the film. "Watching Streep and Roberts go at each other is a great and terrible pleasure, though you wouldn't want to re-enact their battles in your own home anytime soon. Streep is marvelous and terrifying, eyeballing every relation at her dinner table, calculating their secrets and then jabbing them with poisonous verbal darts at just the right moment; you can see her making mental notes on every hidden weakness. Roberts, grim and stripped of her trademark killer smile, is even more compelling as the angry Barbara, who by necessity has evolved into a worthy opponent for her selfish, strong-willed mother - possibly to the detriment of her own happiness," Ogle writes.
Huddlestone sees her as a worthy successor to Streep, when the legendary actress finally calls it quits. "In fact, it's tempting to see this as Roberts's audition to be the next go-to gal for meaty older-lady roles when Meryl finally hangs up her spurs," he writes.